Sibling rivalry. This term gets tossed around like it’s no big deal -just another one of life’s rites of passage, like puberty or being forced to wear a hideous bridesmaid dress. And maybe the experience can be reduced to that kind of banal platitude for the siblings involved– but let’s consider sibling rivalry from the perspective of its real victims: The parents of the rivals.
There are days when my house is like the arena in The Hunger Games. My two competitors stalk each other in a kill-or-be-killed, all-out battle to the death – usually spurred on by some unconscionable sin like the taking of the last Slim Jim. (Seriously, my kids love those things.) So one kid hits/kicks/punches/scratches/bites/trips/pinches/flicks/smashes/swats/socks/karate chops/whammies/belts/tags or otherwise hurts the other kid… and the games begin!
Clearly, I didn’t see who hit whom first. I never see who hit whom first. I was in the other room checking Facebook working my fingers to the bone when the offense occurred, so I have no idea who is to blame. So now, I am left with Sophie’s Choice. Obviously I must respond in some way, lest I give up my scepter that grants me power as the reigning overlord (which, FYI, they will have to pry from my dead, cold hands). The choice before me is which of my darling children I will throw under the bus and make pay for the crime I am not even sure s/he committed. I am not proud to say, I have one kid I usually pick over the other.
Let me be clear: I do not have a favorite child. What I do have, however, is one child who tends to hit/kick/punch/scratch/bite/trip/pinch/flick/smash/swat/sock/karate chop/ whammy/belt/tag or otherwise hurt my other child just a bit more frequently. So, this is the kid I usually end up punishing, even when I have no idea whose fault it actually was.
The problem here is not the unfair punishment (frankly, it’s probably a well-need change from all the incessant compliments they get) but rather, that I think my method may actually be contributing to the rivalry itself, pitting my children against each other and creating an environment where when one kid misbehaves, the other kid wins.
But what are we to do as parents? If we opt out of the role of judge/jury/executioner and take a passive stance, Darwinian law would kick in and the strongest kid would always prevail. That doesn’t seem fair. But if we intervene, we end up singling out one of our children (fairly or unfairly) for “being bad,” thus ratcheting up the very conflict we seek to dispatch.
It really is a lose-lose situation for parents. Perhaps the solution is to blame both/all of the kids whenever there is any conflict at all. Any and all transgressions resulting in violence or extreme rudeness will result in swift and severe punishment of each involved party. Maybe that would deter conflict and result in things being All Quiet on The Western Front.
Or maybe it’d just end with both my little cherubs turning into Monsters, Inc.
And leave me Dazed and Confused.
*Thanks to The Flying Chalupa for inspiring me with her post you can read here. Seriously, she is hilarious.